The high cost of higher education was always the major flaw in the "retraining" argument they so like to toss around the Beltway cocktail circuit. Even when people want to go back to school, they can't easily afford it. (I can't tell you how many people I know had to scrape together last-minute loans this September when their kids' financial aid or work-study jobs were suddenly cut.)
Soon, no one except the very rich will be able to go to college - and that's the way Republicans seem to like it. We can go back to those great days of Horatio Alger, when poor but deserving lads were taken under the wing of a wealthy benefactor:
Colleges are expecting a sharp increase in financial aid requests next year because of rising unemployment, declining home values, and the scarcity of private loans. (Government-backed loans are expected to be widely available.)
"We're not agonizing over the endowment losses," said Bob Brown, president of Boston University, which froze hiring and imposed a moratorium on all new construction projects in October. "All of our anxiety is around our students, and their financial ability to attend. That's an absolutely fundamental shift from the past few years."
At Wellesley College, finance officials have been tinkering with projection models by adjusting for unemployment rates and other economic variables to estimate student financial need.
"It's a major unknown and a major concern," Andrew B. Evans, the college's treasurer and vice president for finance, said of potential aid requests. "But you can't assume the norm in this environment. You have to adjust."
What many colleges are assuming, Evans said, is that hard times will not pass soon.